MD Anderson offers innovative treatments provided by some of the world’s leading liver cancer experts. Your personalized treatment plan will depend on:
- The size of the tumor
- If there is cirrhosis of the liver
- Your general health
- The cancer stage
Treatments that aim to cure liver cancer are usually only used for early stage cancers. If the tumor is found at a later stage, treatment other than surgery may be used. Your team will determine the most appropriate therapy for you.
One or more of the following therapies may be used to treat liver cancer or help relieve symptoms.
Surgery offers patients with early stage disease the best chance for successful treatment. If all the cancer can be removed, the possibility of successful treatment is higher.
However, complete removal of liver cancer is often not possible because the cancer is large or has spread to other parts of the liver or the body. The liver may also be damaged because of other conditions. Surgeons try to remove as much of the tumor as possible while leaving enough of the liver to function.
MD Anderson has pioneered several liver cancer surgery techniques that have been adopted by clinics across the country. These include two-stage operations for liver disease and minimally invasive procedures. These advances reduce the rates of blood transfusions and complications. They also allow for shorter hospital stays, quicker recovery and reduced pain medicine after surgery.
The main types of surgery for liver cancer are:
Hepatectomy: The part of the liver with the tumor is removed. During a partial hepatectomy, only the tumor and a rim of surrounding liver tissue are removed. During a major hepatectomy, a larger portion of the liver is removed.
Liver transplant: The diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor. This is an option for patients with advanced cirrhosis or when a tumor cannot be surgically removed. Liver transplants have a risk of serious infection and other health issues.
Life after liver cancer surgery
MD Anderson’s Enhanced Recovery Program allows many patients to return to their usual daily activities in the weeks to months following liver cancer surgery.
Possible symptoms after liver cancer surgery include:
- Fatigue due to the amount of energy being used by the liver as it regenerates
- An accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
These symptoms will often go away in time. Your physician will also carefully monitor you for symptoms and signs of the cancer coming back.
These minimally invasive procedures use imaging guidance. This allows an interventional radiologist to target tumors though small injections or needle placements. These procedures are usually done as outpatient procedures. This results in much shorter hospital stays than major surgeries.
Tumor ablation: Heat (radiofrequency or microwave ablation) or extreme cold (cryosurgery) is used to freeze or burn the liver cancer away. Ablation may be used when surgery to remove a tumor is not possible.
Embolization: Material is injected into the artery that carries blood to the tumor. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy are directed at the tumor instead of through the whole body. In some cases, blood vessels going to the tumors can be blocked. This starves the cancer cells of blood and results in tumor cell death. Embolization treatments include:
- Chemoembolization: Tiny pellets soaked in chemotherapy are injected into the arteries that carry blood to the tumor. This delivers chemotherapy directly to the tumor.
- Radioembolization: Tiny pellets of plastic or another material deliver particles carrying radiation into the arteries that carry blood to the tumor. This kills the tumor cells. Delivering radiation directly into the tumor helps preserve as much normal liver as possible. It also maximizes the destructive dose of radiation to the tumor.
New radiation therapy techniques allow MD Anderson doctors to target liver tumors more precisely. This means using the most radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.
Radiation therapy options include:
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT): Very high doses of radiation are targeted at the tumor using beams. Technology is used to help protect organs near the liver from radiation.
- Magnetic resonance imaging guided radiation therapy (MR-guided RT): MR-guided RT uses imaging to view the tumor while the radiation beam is on. This provides a higher degree of certainty during radiation therapy.
- Proton therapy: This treatment delivers high doses of radiation directly to the tumor. It can minimize damage to nearby healthy tissue. For some patients, this therapy results in a higher chance for successful treatment with less impact on the body. The Proton Therapy Center at MD Anderson is one of the largest, most advanced proton therapy centers in the world.
Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells, control their growth or relieve disease-related symptoms. Chemotherapy may be a single drug or a combination of several. The type of chemotherapy used depends on the type of cancer and how fast it is growing.
Our experts are working on new ways to send chemotherapy drugs directly to the liver and deliver higher doses of chemotherapy with fewer side effects. Researchers are studying chemotherapy options targeting the blood vessels that keep tumors alive.
Immunotherapy recruits the patient’s own immune system in the fight against cancer. This can be used on its own or in combination with other therapies.
While many treatments kill cancer cells directly, targeted therapies work by stopping or slowing the growth or spread of cancer.
This happens on a cellular level. Cancer cells need specific molecules (often in the form of proteins) to survive, multiply and spread. These molecules are usually made by the genes that cause cancer, as well as the cells themselves. Targeted therapies are designed to interfere with, or target, these molecules or the cancer-causing genes that create them.
MD Anderson offers clinical trials of new treatments for every type and stage of liver cancer.
Treatment at MD Anderson
Liver cancer is treated in our Gastrointestinal Center and Proton Therapy Center.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
Find the latest news and information about liver cancer in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.
MD Anderson has licensed social workers to help patients and their loved ones cope with cancer.